U.S. District Judge David Norton issued an injunction lifting a two-year stay on Obama-era provisions expanding federal authority under the Clean Water Act. The 2015 rule gave the Environmental Protection Agency the power to regulate seasonal and other wetlands, and also identifies which wetlands and waterways fall under federal regulation.
In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order implementing the two-year stay on the rule to give the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers time to rewrite and diminish the regulations.
On Thursday, Judge Norton ruled in favor of environmentalist groups by granting a nationwide injunction based on his finding that the Trump administration violated administrative procedure by not allowing the public to comment on the proposed new rule and implications of delaying the Clean Water Act protections.
Norton’s ruling comes in a case brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and a coalition of environmental organizations in Charleston, South Carolina, federal court in February challenging the suspension of the regulations.
The ruling does not apply, however, to 24 states where other relevant cases are pending.
In a statement on the SELC website, senior attorney Geoff Gisler, who represents the coalition of environmental groups, praised Norton’s ruling.
“This is a victory for families and communities across America who depend on clean water, and rebuke to the polluting industries trying to gut this nation’s bedrock health and environmental safeguards,” Gisler said. “Water is a way of life in the South, where clean water is the lifeblood of our economy. We are thrilled the court rejected this administration’s blatant attempts to undermine safeguards that are critical to our nation’s welfare without being accountable to the American people.”
Supporters of Trump’s executive order argue that lower courts should not have the power to overrule the stay; but Norton wrote the environmental groups that brought the lawsuit are from different states and the regulations impact an array of wetlands and waterways across the nation.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, which intervened in the Clean Water Act case in support of the Trump administration, said in a statement that it will appeal Norton’s ruling and called the Obama-era rule “illegal.”
Eleven state attorneys generals and several environmental groups also prevailed in a similar lawsuit Friday.
The D.C. Circuit ruled against the Trump administration’s delay of an amendment to the Clean Air Act that includes stronger industry regulations and a rule meant to protect communities from chemical accidents. The amendment included consequences for accidental releases of chemicals and defined corrective measures for environmental cleanups.
The court ruled that the EPA’s delay of the regulations for 20 months was arbitrary and capricious.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood applauded the D.C. Circuit’s ruling.
“Again and again, the Trump EPA has tried to push through policies that jeopardize our health and fly in the face of the law – and again and again, we’ve taken them to court and won,” she said.